I work as a learning assistant in a large comprehensive school supporting children who have a variety of special educational needs. One of the most challenging is an English class with 13 and 14 year olds. About ten children really struggle to engage or focus.
One girl in particular has a reputation for being very adversarial and is generally disruptive and distracting in the class. I know a little about this girl’s difficult home life and have made a particular point of doing my best to build a good connection with her over the few months.
Setting Warm Limits
In a recent lesson she began repeatedly tapping her pen loudly on the table. It was frustrating to the teacher, to me, and the rest of the class, who kept asking her to stop.
The normal sanctions that she meets for this type of behaviour are being sent out of the classroom, getting a detention or having to stay behind at break and lunchtime.
But on that day, I quickly moved in close and made eye contact. I warmly asked her to stop tapping the pen and explained it was distracting to the rest of the class. I had to ask her about four times, but I always kept my voice warm and firm, smiling and maintaining good eye contact.
The teacher continued to manage the rest of the class, so we were working well together.
Since I have worked on establishing a respectful connection with her, Elissa was able to hear my limit. She managed to put down the pen after about the fifth request from me.
I thanked her and continued to connect with her by linking the English assignment to dogs, a subject I know she is interested in.
She engaged really well with the project and worked incredibly well for the next two lessons to complete her work, and still feels immensely proud of the results.
Setting warm limits as an intervention averted the usual punitive response to her disruptive behaviour. You can read more about How to Set Limits Without Using Fear or Shame here.
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